Thursday, January 2, 2020

Girls' Day Out, Part 1


Like my previous guidees, Janice, Dawn, and Maureen had already done some basic Valley birding before going out with me, but it sounded like a lot of the back country birds would be new, so we opted to reverse our original itinerary and do La Sal del Rey first!  Things looked good when we picked up a White-tailed Kite at a stop light on the way up!  Just before the Brushline turnoff we spotted a Caracara feasting on a rather large road kill!

Even though it was quite windy to start, things were chirping right at the start of the road, so we got out and bagged a Bewick’s Wren right away, along with some Cardinals.  Pyrrhuloxia was big on the want list, and I was hearing them, but they just didn’t want to cooperate until we got back into the car, crept down, and then the male gave us a lovely look from the car!  Orange-crowned Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers would brave the wind to come out pishing, and Lark Sparrows would pose in the brush (at least until a Cooper’s Hawk blasted in and broke up the party)!  A White-tailed Hawk sat in lousy light against a pole, but we later got a great look at one in flight that was hanging with some Turkey Vultures!  Caracaras were all over as well, and another wish came through for the girls when a Harris’ Hawk flew up on a pole and posed for pictures!  Just before SR 186 one of the ag fields had several American Pipits in it along with some Western Meadowlarks.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Orange-crowned Warbler (also below)

Male Red-winged Blackbirds hangs with the ladies...

Closer look at the males (the one on the right is an almost-adult)

Harris' Hawk

The road north of 186 was quite productive:  we came across a small dead snake, and Janice used a nifty little app called Seek – by taking a picture the thing ID’d it right away as a Texas Rat Snake!  Shortly after that a couple of “herpers” from the Gladys Porter Zoo wheeled by and actually collected the thing (and confirmed the ID)!  He also mentioned they had come across a road-killed Bobcat, so we wondered if that’s what the Caracara was dining on along FM 490!  

We come across a road-killed Texas Rat Snake

Janice uses "Seek" to ID it...

...while a herp expert from the Gladys Porter Zoo just happens to wheel by and confirm the ID before collecting it!
A little further on Janice had just started her PBJ sandwich when her life Roadrunner appeared on the road ahead of us!  Then one of the gals spotted something big coming through the trees that turned out to be a huge flock of Sandhill Cranes that actually wheeled low overhead!  Closer to Tres Presas Ranch we got a Cactus Wren to practically sit on the car, and a pair of Black-throated Sparrows gave great views!  Two "turkeys" graced us:  some colorful-headed Wild Turkeys running into the brush, and a brilliantly red-headed Turkey Vulture sitting on some dead wood in the sun!  But the real prize was up at the farm pond:  a little bunting that I assumed was an Indigo at first turned out to be a female-type Painted Bunting!  The funny thing was that a Pyrrhuloxia was following it around (the only time I ever scolded a Pyrr to get out of the way J)!  The pond itself had some nice things to pad the list with (a pair of young spoonbills, both grebes, Pintail, stilts, Least Sandpipers, and other ducks), and another Harris’ Hawk posed right by the car!  We were so engrossed with him that we almost missed the huge Indigo Snake crossing the road!  The hawk then flew over to the opposite side and looked as though he was pondering whether to take it on or not…

Eastern Phoebe

Flyover Sandhill Cranes (the higher whistling sounds are made by young birds)

Wild Turkey

Turkey Vulture

Common Ground Dove

Harris' Hawk in an interesting pose...

...perhaps eyeing this Indigo Snake!

Several shots of the female-type Painted Bunting, a rare bird in the winter!

We picked up the pace as we wanted to give Estero Llano Grande SP some fair time, so we headed back down and over by way of Ken Baker Road, but we ended up hitting the brakes for a few things, most notably another Roadrunner!  He went into the brush, but after messin’ with him for awhile I gave up as he apparently stayed in the brush, but as we continued on I suddenly noticed that he had taken up sentry duty in the tree!  We got wonderful looks as he preened!  We had a couple of Fuertes’ Red-tailed Hawks along Ken Baker, and we were almost to the little marsh on Rio Beef when a few Bobwhite scurried across the road!  Some of them actually showed themselves for the girls!

We couldn’t pass up the 1015 Pond since we were going right by it!  We wheeled in, and as Janice was getting into the PBJ sandwich again, her life Mottled Duck decided to take off and land on the other side of the pond! J  We padded the list with Ring-necked Ducks, a calling Sora, and a Green Kingfisher, then headed on.

Checking out the 1015 Pond

Green Kingfisher

We sent Janice on ahead once we arrived at Estero (she opted not to use the bushes along Brushline), but as we three remaining girls headed in, a lovely Buff-bellied Hummingbird fed at the feeder near the office!  (Janice missed that one, of course… L)  We spent extended time on deck, enjoying all the ducks, egrets, and ibis, and had a good enough look at one of the Plegadis ibis to comfortably call it a White-faced (which was more exciting to the gals from New Jersey, anyway J).  We found a Cinnamon Teal in Avocet Pond, and while two of the gals were doing something else, a pair of White-tailed Kites wheeled in the distance!  

Ibis Pond

With namesake White Ibis

Northern Shovelers
We spent about 15 minutes at the feeders and enjoyed an ice cream, but nothing came in but Chachalacas, so we headed towards Alligator Lake.  We checked out all the ducks at Dowitcher Pond and added the wintering Spotted Sandpiper that always seems to be there, but this time the dark ibis closest to us turned out to be the continuing Glossy, giving us great looks at his white-outlined dark face and dark eye!  Grebe Marsh had both grebes along with some teal and Shovelers, and the night herons were back at Alligator Lake, along with an Anhinga!  We continued on to find the Pauraque when one of the gals noticed that someone had drawn an arrow in the sand and created a “stick arrow” as well, which pointed right to the bird!  That was nice of them!

On the boardwalk

The wintering Glossy Ibis, told from the White-faced by the slate-colored face and dark eye

Female Blue-winged Teal

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Shooting the herons

The famous Pauraque

Note the arrows on the ground!

Grebe Marsh has both Pied-billed Grebes...

...and Least Grebes!

After checking out the overlook (and being wowed by Big Mama Gator – it’s so fun to calmly say, “Oh, there’s your alligator,” and watch your guidees lose it! J) we headed back and found an immature hawk at Dowitcher Pond that was in horrible light, but was really a puzzle:  superficially it looked like a juvie Gray Hawk but the face wasn’t as contrasting as I would expect, and while there was some spotting on the breast, there wasn’t a lot.  Janice got a nice photo, so once back at the car she used her “Seek” app on it, and according to that, it was a Gray Hawk!  However, after posting my horrible pictures on the RGV Birding Facebook page, a pale immature Red-shouldered Hawk was suggested, which actually made more sense…

Big Mama Gator

Lousy picture of what proved to be a young Red-shouldered Hawk

White Ibises showing off


We decided to swing through the Tropical Zone by way of the trail in back of the VC, scaring up a bunch of Inca Doves at the feeders in the process!  Some “dark” ibis were in the back side of Ibis Pond, but in the wonderful afternoon light his red eye was very obvious!  The Screech Owl that allegedly hangs out in that white shack wasn’t home (I have yet to see it there, actually), but almost immediately after one of the gals voiced a desire to see an Armadillo, guess what popped up!  They were rooting around and came quite close to us (not surprisingly, as apparently they don’t see too well…)!  That started a discussion about the idea of their spreading leprosy if handled, and a Google search on the way home showed that was indeed the case – no Urban Legend there!

White-faced Ibis - note the lavender face and red eye, as opposed to the Glossy Ibis


We ended the day with an impressive 92 species!  Bird list:

Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mottled Duck
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Ruddy Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Northern Bobwhite
Wild Turkey
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground Dove
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Common Pauraque
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-necked Stilt
Long-billed Curlew
Least Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Caspian Tern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Tricolored Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Harris's Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Gray Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Green Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Green Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Bewick's Wren
Cactus Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Pipit
Olive Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Painted Bunting

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